Summarizing Remarks on 15 Years of the Center for Distance
Education at Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
by Ulrich Bernath (1993)
A translation of "Eine abschließende Betrachtung über 15 Jahre Fernstudienzentrum der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, in: 15 Jahre Beratung und Betreuung für Studieninteressenten und Studierende der FernUniversität - Gesamthochschule - Hagen durch das Fernstudienzentrum der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, 1978 - 1993, Ed.: Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Zentrale Einrichtung Fernstudienzentrum, Oldenburg 1993, pg. 111 - 122
1. The historical and educational context
Distance education in Germany has a young and varied history. It included state controlled and centrally planned undergraduate distance teaching offerings within the system of higher education of the former GDR1.. It also included the costly comprehensive media approach in distance teaching at universities (FIM), decreed by state authorities in the seventies of the former West German Federal Republic2..
The institutions beginning to represent a tradition in distance education are the North Rhine-Westphalian FernUniversität in Hagen, which is a university for undergraduate, graduate and non-credit students designed to deliver courses for German speaking areas. Others are the German Institute for Distance Education at the University of Tübingen (DIFF), a federally and state financed institute for development and research in continuing distance education, and several smaller units at German universities, which are collaborating with the FernUniversität and/or primarily develop and deliver distance teaching offers in continuing education. Last but not least there exists a small private distance teaching college offering undergraduate courses in business administration at the Akademikergesellschaft für Erwachsenenbildung mbH. (AKAD)
The status report3. in distance education in the Federal Republic of Germany published in 1989 is still valid. It describes distance education in Germany with its striking diversity of institutions, disparate regional developments and specialized subject areas4..
Distance teaching for degree seeking students as well as in continuing distance education is in a larger scale only made possible by the FernUniversität, which has reached the considerable number of registrations of 50,000 in the academic year 1992/93. The numbers of students at the FernUniversität has continuously risen. It is today one of the well established distance teaching universities within the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU).
The introduction of the European single market in 1993 has considerably changed the perspectives of German distance education because "in other Western European countries the development in distance education and open learning is more advanced than in Germany" 5..
Lower Saxony, one of the states in the Federal Republic of Germany which are autonomously responsible for their educational policies, has realized its own concept to promote higher distance education. The so-called "Lower Saxony Model for Distance Education at Universities" in the late seventies was evidently a forward-looking and guiding decision for distance teaching within the system of higher education.
Coincidently with the establishment of the FernUniversität in 1975 the issue was raised in Lower Saxony whether to develop regional advice and support for degree seeking distance students at the central FernUniversität. As a result of a state funded demonstration project, Lower Saxony provided already in 1978 the establishment of centers for distance education at three universities: at Hildesheim, Lüneburg, and Oldenburg. In addition a central secretariat for distance education in Lower Saxony ("Zentrale Arbeitsstelle für Fernstudium") was established in Hildesheim to support the collaboration of the three university centers for distance education and serve and consult all other state universities6..
This infrastructure was designed to ensure advice to and support for Lower Saxony students of the FernUniversität as well as enable participation in the development and adaptation of distance teaching offerings including those of the home universities. In contrast to the FernUniversität in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony largely followed the considerations, recommendations, and plans originally developed by Uwe Brandes and Ernst Raters7..
The Lower Saxony concept was rather unique even in international comparison. It became a new challenge for conventional universities and their centers for distance education serving not only their own faculty and students but also - and this was the major task from the very beginning - students of other universities such as the FernUniversität, which offers distance courses to students outside their own state boundaries.
Advising and supporting the students of the FernUniversität became the first and major responsibility of the Center for Distance Education at the University of Oldenburg during the academic year 1978/79. As it had been anticipated, these tasks were carried out both cooperatively as well as independently by the three Lower Saxony centers8..
Comparable centers for distance education emerged in that time at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University at Frankfurt and at the University of Bremen.
Within its latest recommendations the federal Science Advisory Board (Wissenschaftsrat) of Germany underlines the establishment of centers for distance education at universities as a compelling consequence of distance education with an emphasis on stronger regional and demand-oriented delivery structures9..
In addition the Science Advisory Board recommends cooperative models between central distance teaching institutions and local/regional universities and once again underlines the role of centers for distance education at conventional universities in order to give the necessary organizational and administrative support to the colleges, departments, and faculty willing to engage in distance education10..
The Science Advisory Board confirms and strengthens in 1993 the visionary policies of the German states of Lower Saxony, Bremen and Hesse of the seventies.
The Federal Ministry for Education and Science constantly promotes with its policy and fundings a national network of centers for distance education at and off university sites. Meanwhile, most states in the German Federal Republic have joined in this development. The actual number of centers for distance education at conventional universities has already reached a total of 1811..
The Science Advisery Board consistently recommends that the FernUniversität in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia should reconsider its decision to establish study centers in 28 locations, mostly in remote areas centrally administered12., and favours instead study centers at adjacent state universities13..
If one now takes the multifunctional orientation declared 15 years ago to be the mission of the three Lower Saxony centers for distance education and the achievements of the Center at the University of Oldenburg, as an example, the performance appears to answer satisfactorily the questions of the adequacy of the structures of central units for distance education at conventional universities as shown by its past demonstration projects, trial runs, status reports and evaluations14..
The structure of these programs favors certain directions and developments which have put into focus the two major areas of responsibilities during the past fifteen years:
First, there is the advice and student support offered by the Center, which is likely to be the task of a study center of the FernUniversität, and second there is the task of participation in distance education developments by our faculty and regional institutions of higher education. The state is legally obliged to fund the first responsibilty. The second area, the development of programs by our home university, however, is self-financed15..
2. Responsibilities for advising and student support
The first students of the FernUniversität, living in Lower Saxony were obviously faced with a lack of regional advice and student support by seeking their degrees, because the FernUniversität could only establish study centers within their state in North Rhine-Westphalia. In addition the question whether student support by tutoring and counselling should be the integrated elements of distance teaching remained undetermined after the FernUniversität had been founded, and initially no consensus emerged within the institution regarding this issue.
Advising and supporting students of the FernUniversität in Lower Saxony, however, became clearly the main tasks of the centers in Lower Saxony in the first years of their existence. It was a matter of importance to develop, test, and establish a suitable concept for advising and preparing interested people and applicants as well as to support adequately degree seeking students while they are studying at a distance.
The Center for Distance Education at the University of Oldenburg, similar to the few other central units at universities outside North Rhine-Westphalia, was autonomously responsible for its practice with respect to the agreements on cooperation with the FernUniversität. It happened that the Center in Oldenburg was much more oriented toward the British Open University with its highly developed regional and local system of counseling and tutoring and thus differed in part significantly from the practice at the FernUniversität 16..
The advancements in advice and support for Lower Saxony students of the FernUniversität made possible by the Lower Saxony government by reasonably funding the three central university units since 1978 enabled the establishment of distinct concepts and made possible two important developments:
First, there is no longer any serious argument against regional advice and student support to obtain degrees in distance education 17..
Second, the development of competence in the fields of advice and student support for degree seeking distance students at the Center for Distance Education and its university environment in Oldenburg led to remarkable developments and spin-offs since the early eighties: favorable experiences for the transfer and application of knowledge in home-made distance teaching projects, in demonstration projects as well as in smaller research projects.
The perception of responsibilities in advising and supporting the students of the FernUniversität in their subject areas by the University of Oldenburg and its Center for Distance Education creates expertise and proficiency18..
As a consequence the outcome was an autonomous concept, for which it was responsible and subject to evuluation. The Center's own evaluation consisted of surveys on the impact of the geografic distance between the students and their study center19., on non-credit students20. and on students, who leave the distance study system and are refered to "drop outs"21..
The study on the impact of geografy confirmed for instance the importance of tutorials on Saturdays and on weekends as well as educational sessions lasting an entire week22.. It led to steps to regional decentralization of the advice and student support. The establishment of a sub-center at the technical college in the remote north-western area of the Lower Saxony region of Ostfriesland (in the city of Emden) has been in existence since 198323..
With those foundations and innovations the Center for Distance Education of the University of Oldenburg represents a tested and differentiated concept of interrelated measures to prepare applicants and support degree seeking students with demand-oriented tutorials in small classes with regard to regional realities in a large and rural countryside24.. Different forms of cooperation and networks ensure an effective and strengthened application of the concepts.
Such concepts for degree seeking students of the FernUniversität, developed and realized at a conventional university, raises the interesting question what really happens when such different systems and "cultures" of higher education meet and confront each other in a university like the one in Oldenburg.
The task is in main the every-day integration of distance teaching and conventional teaching in their most various forms.
Faculty in some cases are also mentors (a part-time role such as a tutor) who are engaged in supporting distance students in their subject areas. Faculty thus rethink their teaching methods and concepts about higher education.
Distance students take additional advantage of various kinds of services of the University of Oldenburg such as the computer lab and the library. They integrate themselves into the teaching offers of the University of Oldenburg. Some also apply as associate students.
On an even higher level as degree seeking students of both universities they may combine the two modes in a successive process due to changed preferences. They may first study at a distance and then apply at the conventional university or vice versa. According to the legal realities registration at a conventional university makes it possible to combine their studies with distance studies at the FernUniversität. This "combi"-mode applies to part-time as well as to full-time degree students.
All this occurs to considerable extent based on individual decisions25..
The integration of both modes is seen as one of the challenges for the Center of Distance Education at the University of Oldenburg. Such a dual-mode strategy in practice affects, however, the interests of faculty at the own university. It then becomes part of the second area of experience of the Center discussed below:
3. Participation in the development of program offerings in higher distance education and training
The participation of the Center for Distance Education in distance teaching program developments initiately began with the distance teaching offerings by the FernUniversität and other external distance teaching institutions.
There are five fields of practice which are linked to the experiences with external distance teaching offerings and their application and adaptation in our region during the past 15 years and which warrant mentioning:
The above mentioned examples of different forms of integrating distance and classroom teaching in degree programs and in continuing education are reported to and discussed in their respective committees of the University of Oldenburg, including the Academic Senate, departments, and faculty involved.
The increasing incorporation of distance teaching attempts at the University of Oldenburg and the coordinating function by the Center for Distance Education makes possible for both individuals and the institution to further program developments in distance education at the University of Oldenburg. The Center became the project-managing unit in three remarkable cases:
In all three examples developmental efforts were made in conjunction with local, regional, national and international partners of various institutions of higher education and funded by different sources35..
The continuing education and retooling course for nurses on "Psychological Health Promotion" is transmitted by a network of eight universities in Germany with more than 40 experts (faculty and teaching professionals) involved during the academic year 1993/94.
Despite the relevance of each case it is obvious that the mentioned experimental activities are not in the core areas of the university. However, they are well representing areas, which are expected to be in the spectrum of offerings of universities36.. It is emphasized, that such programs be offered in a distance teaching mode to match their student's or participant's demands37..
In regard to the two large task areas of the Center for Distance Education one must consider the internal resources and organizational structure of this unit within the University of Oldenburg.
4. The development of the organizational structure of the Center for Distance Education
The Center for Distance Education was dedicated to a multifunctional and coordinating approach toward matters of relevance in higher distance education from the very beginning.
With its development the Center has established about 40 positions in four areas of responsibility and on three levels: Director, academic personel with the Programme coordinators, part-time Mentors, temporaray project employees, and administrative staff.
The new position of Programme coordinators was introduced. Their responsibilities are in the fields of mentoring/tutoring and counseling. They recruit and direct the part-time mentors in their subject areas. They engage themselves in advising and mentoring distance students and finally they are participating in the development of programs and projects.
The Programme coordinators at the Center for Distance Education at University of Oldenburg are functioning in three bundled subject areas, so far:
The factual organizational development proceeded step by step, periodically tied to developing and demonstration projects, and thus was also able to test itself.
The demonstration project "REGIO", for example, contributed to the question whether a regional approach in distance education should also be subject-matter oriented or whether an overall regional oriented approach (such as in the remote area of Ostfriesland in the far north west of Lower Saxony) should be given preference. As a result of these investigations and experiences it was concluded that the far-reaching spectrum of tasks of a multifunctional center for distance education at an university should be structured alongside specialized subject areas. The regional orientation should be considered as an additional approach in such a model of distinct coordination functions in higher distance education.
In a recent project the Center for Distance Education is testing (in association with centers at other northern German universities of Bremen, Hamburg, Hildesheim and Lüneburg) the organization of a EuroStudyCentre as part of the European Open University Network of the European Association of Distance Teaching Universities (EADTU). The challenge is to participate in the European distance teaching offerings and to determine competence in joint international programs. With regard to the coordinating functions it will be necessary to add this European dimension to the academic subject matters.
With such an already broad and still growing spectrum of tasks and orientations the Center for Distance Education needs to be equipped as a central resource and developing unit with a directive and decision making competence. The highly qualified academic personel needs to be independent of their faculty departments to match the complex coordinating tasks in a diversity of the academic subject areas.
The above mentioned concept of the three coordinated subject areas is an tried model and describes a basic structure38..
The government of Lower Saxony has not yet sufficiently financially supported such a basis39..
The "appropriate" organizational structure claimed by the Science Advisory Board in Germany for centers for distance education participating in the further development of distance teaching offers40. has yet to be reached by the Center for Distance Education at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg. This is still its imperative and not unrealstic.
A sufficient basic equipment of human resources and the available advanced levels of the technological resources empowers the former regional model of Lower Saxony and ensures its participation in the European dimensions of distance education.
It is also evident that a solid and competent collaboration with degree seeking students in a distance teaching system enables a university to develop distance teaching projects and networks.
The Center for Distance Education found a favorable starting position in 1978; meanwhile it keeps pace through its selffinancing new projects, in some respect also designed to compensate its deficits in infrastructure. This may be the strength of future developments.
and Wissenschaftsrat, Empfehlungen zum Fernstudium, Drs. 929/92, Hannover, Nov 13,1992, pp. 47 (return to article)
C.Geißler, "Hochschulen vor dem Hintergrund des wirtschaftlichen und sozialen Wandels: Zur Flexibilisierung des Studienangebots", in: Neue Chancen für Fernstudien. Beiträge zur Hochschulreform - Dokumentation eines Kolloquiums -. Materialen des Instituts für Entwicklungsplanung und Strukturforschung, Band 136, Hannover 1990, pp. 15 (return to article)
The Science Advisory Board( Wissenschaftsrat) describes the centers for distance education at three universities in Lower Saxony in its latest report as a "special case" within the institutions in distance education in Germany, ibid., pp.36 f. (return to article)
U. Brandes, E. Raters, Modell für die Planung von Studienzentren für Fernunterricht und Fernstudium - Projektdokumentation und Arbeitsergebnisse -. Ed.: Institut für Regionale Bildungsplanung - Arbeitsgruppe Standortforschung - GmbH, Hannover, September 1978
Fernstudienzentren in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Konzeption, Ausbaustand, bildungspolitische Aspekte und Perspektiven. Programm, Referate, Diskussionsergebnisse des Symposiums am 6.6./7.6.1979. Materialien zur Regionalen Bildungs- und Entwicklungsplanung, Band 110, Ed.: Institut für Regionale Bildungsplanung - Arbeitsgruppe Standortforschung - GmbH, Hannover, (no year) (return to article)
Arbeitsbericht der niedersächsischen Fernstudieneinrichtungen: Aufgaben, Arbeitsergebnisse, Entwicklungsperspektiven; Berichtszeitraum: 1978 - 1983 / Ed.: Hochschule Hildesheim, Zentrale Arbeitsstelle für das Fernstudium - Autoren: U. Bernath, G. Hohlfeld, J. Heuermann, U. Klarmann, Dr. W. Vogel, Dr. H. Wolff ..., Hildesheim, 1984, 159 pp. (return to article)
U. Bernath, Bestandsaufnahme und Entwicklungsperspektiven des Fernstudienzentrums der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg (Stand: März 1993), 9 pp., (manuscript) (return to article)
U. Bernath, Beratung und Betreuung von Fernstudenten der FernUniversität Hagen durch niedersächsische Fernstudienzentren - an Beispielen des Fernstudienzentrums der Universität Oldenburg, in: 15 Jahre Beratung und Betreung für Studieninteressenten und Studierende der FernUniversität -Gesamthochschule - Hagen durch das Fernstudienzentrum der Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Ed.: Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, Zentrale Einrichtung Fernstudienzentrum, Oldenburg 1993,pp. 7 - 31
U. Bernath, Zur Stellung und zum Stellenwert der Mentorentätigkeit im Fernstudiensystem der FernUniversität Hagen, in: 15 Jahre ..., ibid.,pp. 32 - 44 (return to article)
and Modellvorhaben Regio. Kooperationsmodell zentraler Weiterbildungseinrichtungen zur Beratung und Betreuung von Fernstudenten in der Region: Zwischenbericht / Ed.: Hochschule Hildesheim, Zentrale Arbeitsstelle für das Fernstudium. Autoren: G. Hohlfeld..., Hildesheim 1987, 99 pp.
Modellvorhaben Regio. Kooperationsmodell zentraler Weiterbildungseinrichtungen zur Beratung und Betreuung von Fernstudenten in der Region: Projektbericht / Ed.: Hochschule Hildesheim, Zentrale Arbeitsstelle für das Fernstudium. Autoren: U. Bernath, G. Hohlfeld..., Hildesheim 1988, 115 pp.
and the decision of the Academic Senate of the University of Oldenburg to establish a branch as a sub-center for distance education in the remote area of Ostfriesland in the far northwest of Lower Saxony on Jan 30,1983 (return to article)
U. Bernath, The Networking of Study Centres at Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg, in: UNED -EADTU, The Proceedings of the UNED/EADTU Conference and Workshops, Madrid 11th - 12th February 1993, The European Open University Network: Course Delivery, Student Support and Study Centres, Ed.: EADTU Secretariat, June 1993, pp. 86 - 95 (return to article)
D. Todeskino, G. Röhr, Selbstkontrollaufgaben zum Fernlehrgang Ökologie und ihre biologischen Grundlagen, Ed.: Universität Oldenburg, Zentrale Einrichtung Fernstudienzentrum, Oldenburg (no year), 109 pp. (return to article)
U. Bernath, G.W. Lauth, Psychologische Gesundheitsförderung als Aufgabe der Weiterbildung von Krankenhauspflegepersonal, in: Gesundheitsförderung, Eine Investition für die Zukunft. Internationale Konferenz, Bonn, 17.- 19. Dezember 1990. Erziehung, Ausbildung und Forschung. Ergänzungsband Nr. 2 zum Konferenzbericht, pp. 74 - 78, Ed.: Wissenschaftliches Institut der Ärzte Deutschlands (WIAD) e.V., Bonn, 1992 (return to article)
Chr. Bode, Einführung in: Neue Erfahrungen mit flexiblen Lehr-/Lernmodellen. Beiträge zur Hochschulreform - Dokumente eines Kolloquiums -. Materialien des Instituts für Entwicklungsplanung und Strukturforschung, Band 135, Hannover 1990, pp. 12
Robert-Bosch-Stiftung, Pflege braucht Eliten. Denkschrift zur Hochschulausbildung für Lehr- und Leitungskräfte in der Pflege, Göttingen 1992. (Sonderdruck aus: Beiträge zur Gesundheitsökonomie 28) (return to article)
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